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Inuvialuit Living History Project promotes on-the-land activities

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Hiking in the British Mountains. L-R: Cassidy Lennie-Ipana, Starr Elanik, Jason Lau, Ashley Piskor and Angelina Joe. © Lisa Hodgetts

We are flying low over the British Mountains, their bare peaks and ridges streaked with pink and grey. Fingers of green vegetation reach up from the valley bottoms. The summits feel almost close enough to touch. Suddenly, they give way to a broad green valley. The twin otter banks left and descends to follow the deeply etched line of Qikiqtaruk Kunga (the Firth River). We crane our necks to look for game and catch a glimpse of the airstrip — a stretch of open flat ground amid the scattered spruce trees. We have arrived! 

It is the summer of 2019 and we are a group of Inuvialuit Elders, Knowledge Holders and youth, along with university‐based anthropologists and archaeologists, and a videographer from the Inuvialuit Communications Society. We have come together at Imniarvik (Sheep Creek) in Ivvavik National Park, Yukon Territory, as part of the Inuvialuit Living History (ILH) project. Parks Canada, who maintain a beautiful base camp at Imniarvik, helped to facilitate this on‐the‐land culture camp, along with project partners from the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre, Inuvialuit Communications Society, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, University of Western Ontario and Ursus Heritage. 

We will spend the next week engaging in traditional Inuvialuit activities and skills, sharing time and knowledge, visiting cultural sites, exploring Inuvialuit artifacts, laughing and learning together. The youth will learn to document their experiences in different media, producing materials to share on the Inuvialuit Living History website (www.inuvialuitlivinghistory.ca). 

Starr Elanik’s embroidery project in progress. © Becky Goodwin

Over the course of the week, the Elders teach us to make spruce medicine and sourdough pancakes. They share words and songs in Uummarmiutun, a dialect of Inuvialuktun spoken in Aklavik and Inuvik, with origins in the Alaskan Iñupiaq language. The youth interview the Elders, who are encouraging and supportive, and each other. We spend a morning examining artifacts from cultural sites spanning the long Inuvialuit history in the region. We do craft projects and play games. 

One warm clear day, we travel by helicopter to Niaqulik on the Tariuq (Beaufort Sea) coast. We visit now roofless cabins, where family members of several camp participants once lived. We make a fire so we can bake a char caught the day before. As it cooks, Elder Renie Arey, whose mother Martha grew up here, shares Niaqulik’s history. The youth listen, captivated, by her powerful words: “You are all connected onto this land here in some way. I’m very proud of you coming out to learn more about your background. Be proud of who you are, even when you fall, get up and try it again. Move forward like your great‐great grand parents did.” 

These youth have much to be proud of, both in terms of their rich history and their own accomplishments. As Angelina Joe wrote in her journal, spending time on the land with Elders is “keeping the history strong and alive for more generations to know.” She sketched Inuvialuit seasonal activities and made a video of her interview with Elders Renie Arey and Walter Bennett. Starr Elanik created embroideries inspired by the wildflowers she photographed all week. Hayven Elanik produced a poster about Inuvialuit traditional teachings and activities and put together a detailed family history. Mataya Gillis and Cassidy Lennie‐Ipana worked together to create a magazine, Nipaturˆuq, which means ‘having a loud voice’. From their first issue about what being Inuvialuit means to the camp participants, they have since gone on to independently produce two more issues. Each of these projects featured on the ILH Facebook page will become part of a new version of the Inuvialuit Living History website, currently being developed. Here, we will share the experiences and knowledge exchanged over our week at Imniarvik. Others will be able to join us virtually in the British Mountains and along the Yukon coast. We invite you to share in our journey. 

Submitted by Lisa Hodgetts, Natasha Lyons, Renie Arey, Walter Bennett, Mervin Joe, Hayven Elanik, Starr Elanik, Mataya Gillis, Rebecca Goodwin, Angelina Joe, Arlene Kogiak, Cassidy Lennie-Ipana, Jason Lau, Ashley Piskor, and David Stewart.